Montreal Gazette - - WORLD -

A North Mis­sis­sippi church that filed a law­suit about a month ago ques­tion­ing the city’s re­stric­tions on gath­er­ings burned to the ground with a dis­turb­ing, mis­spelled mes­sage spray-painted in front of its steps: “Bet you stay home now you hy­pokrites.”

First Pen­te­costal Church in Holly Springs col­lapsed into smoul­der­ing ashes and rub­ble early Wed­nes­day after an ex­plo­sion ig­nited the sanc­tu­ary, Fox 13 Mem­phis re­ported.

Mar­shall County Sher­iff Depart­ment crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tor Kelly Mcmillen told the out­let that author­i­ties be­lieve the fire was ar­son based on ev­i­dence lo­cated around the scene and a nearby hill.

Pas­tor Jerry Wal­drop told the sta­tion that it was hard for him to wrap his head around know­ing some­one might have de­lib­er­ately de­stroyed the church.

“We have re­ally wracked our brains,” he said. “We have no idea, no en­e­mies.”

Just weeks after the house of wor­ship held in­door gath­er­ings with dozens of peo­ple — and then sued to keep author­i­ties out — it now finds it­self en­veloped in a mys­tery that has baf­fled res­i­dents of Holly Springs, a town of 7,600.

The church’s law­suit claimed Mis­sis­sippi’s “safer-at-home” order never pro­hib­ited religious ser­vices, and the state’s gover­nor per­mit­ted houses of wor­ship to wel­come large groups if so­cial dis­tanc­ing was in place.

Stephen Cramp­ton, the church’s at­tor­ney, told WMC that the fire and graf­fiti were “very clearly di­rected at this par­tic­u­lar law­suit and the church’s stand for its own con­sti­tu­tional rights.”

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